It’s been a ridiculously busy summer. And instead of staying indoors and slaving over the hot whir of a Mac fan, I’ve been enjoying the sunshine outside. But come nighttime, your heroine also did her fair share of gig crawling. And if it sounds like I’m mostly gushing about the shows below, it’s because the gigs I saw over the past coupla months were actually, on average, gush-worthy. Here’s what a summer in Vancouver looked like from this side of the lens!
Let’s start with stellar shoe-gazey guitar trickery from Taryn Blake Miller, aka Your Friend. Opening for Courtney Barnett at Fortune Sound club on July 4, Taryn & Co. managed to gobsmack more than a few of us in the audience with her reminds-me-of-Jana-Hunter-of-Lower-Dens bedroom genius vibe, and forceful vocals. Incredible pedal-hopping. Buy their EP Jekyll/Hyde.
Your Friend Taryn needs to be your friend.
Guh. The art of witty lyrics as mouthed by a gravelly show woman, set against a perfectly crunchy indie rock backbeat is not lost! This soon-to-be-really-famous Aussie, Courtney Barnett, wrapped up her tour in Vancouver at Fortune with Your Friend on July 4, by making us laugh, asking us questions, offering to house swap, then diving into the audience and bouncing around. She’s getting pulled around from pillar to post to raise her profile, and Barnett’s ease on stage makes this Melbourne-ite an absolute do-not-miss on the live circuit.
The next day (July 5), it was off to the Rickshaw Theatre to have my ears happily assaulted by my Toronto friends METZ, who as usual, sweated all over the place and shredded the cement walls with fiery punk rock blasts. I have never seen a half-assed METZ show, and as such, I won’t ever miss a live date if I can. Epic. I picked up my melted face from the floor, and I’ve seen these chaps, like, a bazillion times.
Hayden from METZ showing the kids how real drummers do it.
After METZ, the same night, came another thick blanket of heavy rock from Cloud Nothings. Cleveland rocks! Although I found the set sonically interesting to listen to but flat to watch, their latest album Here and Nowhere Else is a fine spin that should be added to your collection, stat.
And speaking of Jana Hunter (which I did, earlier), it was wonderful to see my friend from Lower Dens come through town the NEXT night on July 6, also at the Rickshaw. (Read how I made them Thanksgiving Dinner once, here). Jana had to battle assoholic loud talkers, as her fragile solo and Lower Dens stuffs slowly poured beautifully from the stage, but the new music is sounding a bit more light and airy. Eagerly awaiting hearing how they fare when adapted by the full band, but for now, I was thankful to have Hunter back in front of us.
If Courtney Barnett is rock and roll’s cool young duchess, then Sharon Van Etten is a queen of heart-rending, authentic and utterly beguiling folky indie rock. After Hunter mellowed out the crowd, Van Etten absolutely mesmerized them with beautiful songs, adorable banter, and tales of love and loss. After the show, she had stuck around to have totally earnest, thorough conversations with every single fan who waited in line to meet her, and completely won me over with what seems to be a natural light shining from within her. Yep, major crush.
This is a sad song, Van Etten hinted. “We have branded tissues for sale at merch.”
Just two nights later, it was off to the venue called VENUE to check out Brooklynites Yellow Ostrich. With an indie-rock flourish that was entirely…enjoyable…. Yellow Ostrich also happened to be opening for another set of friends of mine…
…the incomparable Antlers. Playing a much more nuanced and measured set than normal, my lovely, lovely friends the Antlers showcased a vast swath of new songs from the quiet grower, their new album Familiars. The live show on this tour featured horns by Beirut’s Kelly Pratt, and as a combined force, managed to make hairs stand up on end. The Antlers always manage to fill my heart with joy even while it’s also wrestling with singer Peter Silberman’s sad words.
Also folding in tracks from first album Hospice and belting out the beautiful “Putting the Dog to Sleep” and “I Don’t Want Love” from Burst Apart, the Antlers once again proved to be a truly captivating live band.
The Antlers’ Darby Cicci’s hair. And him.
July 11th, Electric Owl: With drummer Kyle Gibson back in San Francisco for some reason or other, and bassist Shayde Sartin, erm, also not in the band at the moment, it was just singer Tim Cohen and guitarist Wymond Miles upholding their end of the Fresh & Onlys bargain, joined by Tennis’ drummer James, and bassist Zach. I’ve been loving the F&Os more and more each time I see them live, and their new album House of Spirits – which the band decided to play front-to-back during this set – is one of the year’s top albums for me.
Another set of mates, Wye Oak, stopped in a VENUE on July 16 to take Vancouver through its first run of their new album, Shriek. Almost entirely devoid of guitars, Shriek is actually a lot less shriek than the last album, their breakout, Civilian. Duo Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have confused a few folks with the new sound – it’s bass-heavy, has keyboards and loftier vocals to go along with Stack’s incredible “drums with one hand, plays keys with the other” mad skillz. But I like a band that’s not afraid to wander down new roads. And I love Wye Oak. They’re still doing things differently, gods bless ‘em.
Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner.
Okay, sure, War on Drugs, shoulda had the benefit of fully working amps at the Rickshaw on July 29th and singer/guitar god Adam Granduciel said as much, when one of his crapped out. He deadpanned that while one amp was fine for a free show, it wouldn’t do for this – the first of two rammed shows in Vancouver at the Rickshaw on July 29. Still, you’d never know there was that much of a problem, aside from Granduciel trying to tap the top of it through because War on Drugs put on a consistently, jaw-droppingly fantastic show.
Granduciel is an impressive guitarist, bending effects to his whim while singing in his of Philly drawl, while the rest of the band played tighter than Charlie Hall’s drum. Their music wraps warm around you, though they’re cooler than “Boys of Summer” which some of their songs remind me of, gleefully. And new album Lost in the Dream? Another winner. And that’s just what I was at this show. Easy. I’ll be seeing the band again in Iceland in November. Can’t wait.
Time for a fast-forward to August 6, throw back to the 80s, and the band I wrote my second-ever record review about in 1987: Echo and the Bunnymen! It’s been nigh on 10+ years since I’ve seen Ian McCulloch solo or the band play together live, and I’m not going to lie: I was ridiculously excited to see them at the Commodore Ballroom. Not much to look at on stage, McCulloch paced, mumbled in his thick Scouse drawl between songs, puffing on an e-cig (though you know he’d murder for a real one), while his Bunnymen backed him up.
The thing that stood out the most? It wasn’t that hair. EATB played a satisfyingly career-spanning set that just sounded SO faithful and fantastic. “Rescue”, “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo”, “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, “Killing Moon”, “The Cutter” and “Lips Like Sugar” and “People are Strange” were all there, blissfully. Cover snippets “LA Woman” and “Roadhouse Blues” were weaved into “Villiers Terrace” and “San Francisco”, while “Walk on the Wild Side” snuggled in between “Nothing Lasts Forever” and “Don’t Let Me Down.” And just when I thought it wasn’t going to happen….the punky classic “Do it Clean” raged. And then, for a second encore, so did McCulloch, when he started with the quiet “Ocean Rain”, but the crowd wouldn’t stop nattering. So, in typical Mac-fashion, he walked off stage. Undaunted, the crowd cheered and Mac came back on. “I didn’t want to sing that anyway,” he mumbled, and instead gave us “Silver” for the end.
And what an end to a summer of sounds!
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